Everyone in the tech space has been in a situation where they’re expected to work more hours, weekends, and consistently burn themselves out all at the expense of their own personal health. Engineers are told that it’s for a deadline or it’s for senior leadership, but what does that actually mean?
It’s already been proven time and time again by psychologists (like this study here from Stanford) that productivity declines rapidly after working more than 45 hours per week, and anything after 55 hours per week is 100% pointless.
There’s never an “end” to the work that everyone needs to do, there’s just more work. In America, it seems like we’re always focused on getting to the end, but there is no end (and if there is, you don’t have a job).
With all of the studies in mind, there’s a change that needs to happen around productivity for engineers and when too many hours are too many hours.
The Case For Mind Sprints
The Hustle Culture is probably one of the worst cultures out there. You constantly see thumbnails on YouTube from Elon Musk saying “I worked 100 hours per week”.
There’s a reason why Elon Musk has had 4 wives.
Living a life in constant hustle makes life just about work. Do you think you’re going to lay on your death bed and say oh boy, I wish I could’ve answered one more email. That would’ve been sweet
With that being said, there is another way to think about this. I’m not saying you should work 100 hours per week for the rest of your life, but I do believe in hustle sprints.
For example – let’s say you have a goal in mind and you really want to get something done. Maybe a personal project or a company idea. You can work, say, 60 or 80 (this isn’t a dedicated number, I’m just giving an example) hours per week for a few weeks or a month if you want to. However, after those few weeks or a month, RELAX. For the next few weeks, maybe work 20-30 hours per week. Don’t continue to just work 80 hours per week.
I call these sprints Mind Sprints. In engineering, a Sprint is a scope of work dedicated to a specific timeframe. There’s a reason why it’s a sprint – because it’s not meant to last forever.
You can hustle, but don’t do it every day of the week or for too long. We all have to be hustlers, we just have to be smart.
The Case For Deep Work
When humans are doing something they’re really interested in, like a hobby, it’s very easy to be 100% focused on that one thing. No distractions, no thinking about the past or future, no thinking about bills. You’re just embedded in what you’re doing.
That’s Deep Work
Because you can easily break into that Deep Work with a hobby, think about if you took that same mindset and used it with your work.
- You’d get much more done, faster, and more efficiently
- You’d feel far more accomplished
- You wouldn’t have a million things going through your mind
- You’d have the ability to be focused
Humans thrive on a focused mindset. Adding that to your job is crucial, especially since most of us are doing it 40+ hours per week.
Another absolutely amazing thing about Deep Work is the reality that because you can get things done faster and more efficiently, you don’t have to work as much. I proved to myself that what used to take me 7-9 hours of distracted work (checking my phone, checking email, checking social media, etc.) now takes me 3-4 hours of deep work (no phone, no social media, completely staying in the present). It’s so easy, by living that work style, to not overwhelm yourself and to not burn out.
One thing to keep in mind with Deep Work is it’s not meant to last 8+ hours for the average person. The mind is like a muscle. You can’t walk into the gym for the first time, throw 415 on the bench press, and put it up 6 times. You have to work your way up to that.
Same thing with Deep Work. Start off for 30 minutes per day and gradually work your way up to 3-4 hours per day.
Going deep into what you’re doing not only helps you stay in the present, but it allows you to get more done faster.
The Case For Shorter Days
6 hours per day is enough to work if you’re focused.
Ever heard that? We see organizations moving towards this mindset in one way or another. Microsoft is implementing 4-day workweeks, for example.
In life, we’re constantly trying to update what we’re doing and figure out better ways to be more efficient. The way we work shouldn’t be any different.
The whole “8-hour workday” started in the 19th century, and hasn’t really been updated or talked about since.
Think about it for a second – some random people thought “let’s work Monday-Friday, 8 hours per day” and we just… kind of do it and continue to do it.
With the breakthroughs in Deep Work, how we can change our thought processes, and what we can do as a society, this mindset can now change.
Shorter days result in:
- More quality work
- Happier employees
- Employees sticking around at organizations longer
- Tasks eliminated that don’t add value
Here’s a great blog post from Harvard Business Review on the topic
More hours doesn’t mean better results. Most of the time it means you’re burning out and working at the expense of your own personal health, time with your family, and hobbies that continue to collect dust.
Enjoying what you do for a living is amazing, but don’t do it 80 hours per week for an organization that will easily get rid of you or replace you.